Gravel pebbles under my soft-soled shoes are a quick indication that I’m ill-equipped for today’s walking tour at the 80th Annual Louisiana Shrimp and Petroleum Festival. But, I can’t help but be excited to see, taste and hear this year’s selection of music and food. I’ve been visiting this fest for about 10 years. It’s the right amount of stir crazy for this quaint city on the mighty Atchafalaya River. It’s nestled in a historic, residential neighborhood of mixed architectural homes and manicured lawns in Morgan City. One could easily step outdoors right into the heart of one of the biggest and busiest parties St. Mary Parish has ever seen. It’s a major tourist draw but the hometown folk enjoy it just as much.
I started my rounds at the jam-packed arts and crafts Vendors Row; brimming with pedestrian traffic just as that of the vehicle traffic bustling above on the iconic US 90 Bridge. The five-block neighborhood festival is alive with thousands of tourists and residents sprawling like ants from a dirt colony into what is often considered a relatively quiet community.
Swamp Pop tunes wafted into the air mixing with the addictive food smells from some of south Louisiana carnival foodie favorites; funnel cakes, gator bites, shrimp and crawfish platters and cotton candy. The combination signified that the state’s oldest chartered festival was in full swing. So many choices that my eyes and stomach were in constant disagreement making it difficult to settle on just one meal. My palate finally met its mate; a sausage link sandwich smothered in grilled onions and red peppers washed down with freshly- squeezed lemonade. The festival boasts itself as a family environment, but after-dark festivities in the park are better suited for adults.
Parents would be best to shuttle their kiddos away to the bridge area for amusement rides and games. By the time the sun was set, alcoholic beverage consumption was rampant including my favorite, the Hurricane. The “spirits” booth is sponsored by a philanthropy-driven organization of teachers, principals and other business persons, but their specialty drink is anything but mild-mannered and professional. The Hurricane packed a punch greater than a Category 5 storm. Trust me, it only takes one. Employing a taxi or designated driver to transport you to your next destination would be your best bet to make it home safely.
The Labor Day holiday weekend’s steam bath of blistering temperatures were a better backdrop to the festival’s milestone year compared to 2014’s incessant rainshowers. Although the sun beat my face and sweat dripped to creases and folds I didn’t know existed, I still managed to fully partake in the festivities. I weaved through the cluster of attendees and made my way to the blacktopped, wooden dance floor. During the hottest part of the day, festival goers thought it better to dance in their lawn chairs under the shade of the park’s magnificent oak trees than to venture into the intense heat. But, by night, the floor was hidden under the feet of Cajun two-steppers and dance-how-you-want enthusiasts.
A favorite around these parts, Wayne Toups drew crowds that extended into almost all ends of the park. Toups’ salt-and-pepper beard, flat-brimmed hat, alligator-tooth necklace and rapid accordion playing made him a likely character from a TV series set in the Louisiana swamps. His lighthearted Cajun tunes were well-received, and I more of a blues lover, was treated to a Toups’ remake of James Brown, “It’s a Man’s World.” His rendition, along with his smiling bearded face and the crowd’s reception, gave me a reason to tolerate my bath in South Louisiana’s unforgiving humidity and stay a little bit longer.
From one artist to another…
Toups and his band were accompanied on stage by famed artist, Tony Bernard. Bernard arranged his own funky piece…on canvas, that is; presumably sold to the highest bidder. It was a crowned pelican. It seemed almost befitting to see Toups and Toulouse (my name for the pelican) side by side on the the same stage — like two kings on their respective thrones; Toups, a music monarch of Grammy-award winning proportions alongside the state’s majestic bird. And, when the last song was played, my soft-soled shoes had become a second layer of epidermis on my feet. But, it was well worth the five-block walk.
What’s a festival without oil and shrimp? Well, #ibedamned
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